Slip-and-Falls and Other Subway Injuries Could Be Prevented


Terrible accidents in subway stations garner headlines. In the past few months, several people have died after falling or being pushed onto the tracks in front of oncoming trains. However, much more common, although less likely to feature in news stories, are people who slip and fall in subway stations. These events change people’s lives and deserve our attention.

By understanding how such incidents occur, we can make subways safer for everyone. Transit officials urge people to slow down to avoid getting hurt. Running is certainly is a factor in some subways falls. However, by blaming the victims, authorities are deflecting scrutiny from unsafe conditions that cause numerous accidents in subway stations.

Each year there are thousands of slip, trip and fall accidents in the New York City subway system. These accidents are the result of poorly maintained stairs and railings, spills and debris not cleared, broken tile and other flooring materials, falling ceilings and broken escalators and elevators. A few stories illustrate how the city and its subcontractors could do a better job of keeping our public transit system safe.

Out-of-service escalators seem to be a significant cause of injury. Many of the problems appear to be with escalators owned by third parties – usually owners of properties adjacent to subway stations who agree to put in and maintain an escalator in return for some benefit – zoning variances, easier commutes for office workers in their buildings or better traffic flow to public attractions. When escalators are out of service, people use them as stairways, walking up and down on the way to the trains.

This is surprisingly dangerous. Escalators are not stairways. There are no railings to grab. The surface is usually grooved, allowing heels, purse straps and wheeled bags to become caught. The depth of the “stairs” varies, depending on where the escalator stopped. The depth can also be higher than the depth of a standard subway entrance-exit stairway. The elderly and disabled find it difficult if not impossible to walk upstairs. In fact, they may have planned their journey because they believed that the station had a working escalator. For all these reasons, nonoperational escalators can be a source of injury to subway riders.

Some escalators remain out of service for years. The escalators at 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue and Delancey Street were out for years. Elevators have similar problems. The elevator at Flushing Avenue seldom works, and an MTA survey found that it was nonoperational 91 percent of the time. At the Lexington Avenue and 63rd Street station, the elevator works only 50 percent of the time. During the three-month survey period, passengers were stuck in elevators 73 times.

Also contributing to safety problems in the subway system are the rats. In addition to generally spreading disease, rats bite passengers and employees. According to the Transit Workers union, the rat population continues to grow. Infrequent trash collection and flimsy garbage cans make subway stations prime feeding grounds for the city’s rats. Because passengers are occasionally bitten, the city cannot defend itself by saying that it was unaware of the problem.

In fact, officials recently announced that they were going to try a new strategy for dealing with the rat problem – birth control. The idea is to try to get female rats to eat a compound that would make them infertile. Although this sounds like a good plan, the rat would need to eat around 10 percent of its body weight within a few days. Because of the competing food supply in trash cans, a female rat may find more appetizing things to eat. Time will tell whether this approach to rat control will work.

In addition to aggressive rats and broken escalators, a huge safety problem in the transit system is stairs. Not only do stairs become broken or rotted, but railings become weak and unstable. Rain, ice and snow compound these problems. Like other property owners, the city has a duty to remove obstacles like snow and ice and to repair broken stairs and railings. When it does not and injuries occur as a result, the city could be held liable.

If you are injured on property owned by the city or MTA, it’s important to take action within 90 days by filing a Notice of Claim. Otherwise, you may lose your legal right to compensation for your injuries and medical expenses. Moreover, by putting the city on notice, you are doing your part to keep the subway system safer for other passengers.

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